T E A M W O R K: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND GLORY ROAD
In 1965, on the heels of the landmark Civil Rights Act passed by Congress, American sports were on the cusp of change--but they needed a bold catalyst. Basketball in particular was quickly gaining in popularity, speeding up and shifting in style, especially as new celebrity players such as Wilt Chamberlain were changing the face of the NBA. Yet there remained the question of finding the new talent that would fuel the game's future. The truth was that college basketball, like other collegiate activities, was still mired in unjust policies of segregation and racial inequality--and opportunities were still being denied to some of the country's most thrilling and undiscovered athletic talents.
Don Haskins, who was just another tough-talking, hard-driving high-school basketball coach, seized the opportunity to fulfill his personal quest to become a champion when Texas Western hired him as their coach. To create a team with the greatest chance at victory, Haskins believed he should recruit the best raw talent he could--no matter what their race, background or life story.
As early as the late 1950s Texas Western University (now renamed University of Texas at El Paso) began to offer athletic scholarships to a limited number of African American players. In the 1960s, that policy was kicked into high gear by Haskins, who, despite being a complete unknown, came to Texas Western ready to prove himself as a coach of unique vision.
Searching for authentic talent and the hunger to win, Haskins aggressively recruited in a color-blind fashion, heading into the inner cities of Detroit and New York, where basketball was still a hotly contested, up-tempo street game. Ultimately, Haskins forged an integrated team that was, in a rare change for a Southern university, predominantly black. Once he had assembled his explosively talented but inexperienced team, Haskins drove his athletes with his notoriously tough but heartfelt coaching methods to give every game--and every challenging situation in their lives--their all.
In 1966, Haskin's and the team's brutally hard work began to pay off big-time. In an incredible season of victories, the Miners won 27 games and lost just one, the same record as their equally fierce rivals in the NCAA championships: the all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats. As the championship game got under way, in front of packed stands and a national television audience, Haskins made a decision that would alter everything: he chose to play an all-black starting lineup. Though the Miners were considered a long shot, their tenacious rebounds, precision shooting and unflagging spirit spurred them to a victory so stirring that no one who saw it would ever forget it.
The amazing triumph did more than excite the fans. It helped shift the national perception of African-American athletes and bring about the widespread desegregation of college sports. In turn, the desegregation of sports helped to spread greater equality throughout American society. Haskins, who continued to be an inspirational and winning coach, became a hero. Admired by his peers for his courage and his larger-than-life personality, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Yet few people today know the story of Don Haskins and the dream-come-true NCAA victory--a story that producer Jerry Bruckheimer felt was one of the great classics of American history when he first heard about it years ago from NBA star Pat Riley. When Bruckheimer had the opportunity to obtain the rights to Haskins' story, he was thrilled to bring this largely unknown tale of courage and grit to the screen.
"What's so interesting about Don Haskins is that he wasn't looking to make any kind of statement. He simply was driven to win," says Bruckheimer. "Yet in making winning his priority, he changed history. Prior to Haskins' heartfelt decision to have an all-African-American starting lineup at the championship game, there were many opportunities missed by gifted athletes. Haskins' actions inspired a lot of players to go on and have illustrious NBA careers. He was an amazing person who had an indelible impact on a lot of lives."
Bruckheimer continues: "I think this is an especially important story to tell today because a lot of kids no longer realize how hard the players and coaches in the '60s had to fight to bring them the incredible opportunities that exist now."
In developing the story of the 1966 NCAA championship into a feature film, Bruckheimer always saw it as being much broader than simply a "sports drama." He saw it as being about the human drive to excel.
"Don Haskins is a fascinating character: a hard-charger and a tough personality who demanded a lot from the people around him," observes Bruckheimer. "He understood something very key--which is that to become a champion it takes a lot of character and a lot of hard work. That is what lies at the heart of this story," says Bruckheimer.
Bruckheimer's production team was equally excited by the material. "We felt that any story that was so inspirational, surprising and true would resonate deeply with audiences," says executive producer Mike Stenson. Adds executive producer Chad Oman, "There are a few iconic moments in sports that made a difference in history--and this is one of them. But it's also a very human story about a young coach who came out of nowhere and discovered he had something great to give."
Executive producer Andy Given, who grew up in El Paso and knew Don Haskins and his family, saw the film as a dream come true. "I have wanted to see this movie made since I was a kid," he says. "I always knew it would make a great movie--it was a moment that became almost a kind of emancipation proclamation for sports--but it took someone like Jerry Bruckheimer to get it made."
When director James Gartner came on board, he, too, began to see Haskins story in a larger light. "The real story of GLORY ROAD is what happens off the basketball court," notes Gartner. "One of the original players from the team once said, 'We didn't break down all the doors, but we opened some,' and that is why this story is so important to tell."
Bruckheimer had been chasing after Gartner to make a feature film for years, having been highly impressed with Gartner's directorial work in advertising. The veteran producer believed Gartner had the right sensibilities for GLORY ROAD's mix of '60s innocence, hard-charging sports action and moments of human inspiration. "James has been directing touching, wonderful commercials for years, and he has a real moral vision that matched the story. He also has a very unique visual style that is really important to this picture because it combines authenticity, heart and humor," says Bruckheimer.
When Bruckheimer approached him, Gartner had never even heard of Don Haskins, but he soon was completely taken with his story. "For me it wasn't just another script, but a true story about an important time in America's history," he says.
For Gartner, tackling a real page out of recent U.S. history in his first outing as a film director was a thrilling challenge. "The journey of making GLORY ROAD has been incredibly rewarding," he says. "Obviously we took some artistic license as this isn't intended to be a biopic, but nevertheless I felt a tremendous responsibility to capture the true essence of Haskins' story. This story is beloved by so many, from the streets of El Paso where it took place, to parents telling their children the tale as a bedtime story. Just as Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, in many ways Don Haskins and his team did the same for basketball."
D I S C I P L I N E: ABOUT THE CHARACTERS AND CAST OF GLORY ROAD
THE COACH: Josh Lucas as Don Haskins
The heart of GLORY ROAD is the story of the unstoppable drive and courage of Don Haskins--so it was key from the beginning to find the right young actor to portray the green but passionately ambitious coach whose love of winning spurred major changes in the game of basketball and the equality of college sports. The filmmakers unanimously agreed that Josh Lucas, the rising young star who came to the fore in "A Beautiful Mind" and "Sweet Home Alabama" and who has appeared most recently in such films as "Stealth" and "An Unfinished Life," had a palpable connection to the essence of Haskins--his ability to be at once intimidating, demanding, merciless and also incredibly inspirational.
Says Jerry Bruckheimer: "Josh Lucas was the right man to play Don Haskins. There is an intensity to him and, most importantly, he knows how to motivate other actors and he threw himself into the role with complete devotion."
Director James Gartner adds, "From the very beginning, Josh was sensitive to what he needed to do to bring Don Haskins to life on screen. An actor must bring their individual personality to a role, and Josh did a fabulous job making this character his own."
Lucas was stunned when he learned the story of GLORY ROAD and was moved by Haskins' role in it. "I don't think a lot of people realize that basketball was so segregated until this point," says the actor. "There were basically all-black leagues and all-white leagues. If it was an integrated team, then the couple of black players sat on the bench most of the time. In this atmosphere, Texas Western beating Kentucky was more than just a game--it was a turning point in society and an exciting moment in history most people know very little about."
He continues, "The cool thing about Haskins is that he was basically color-blind. He never understood why white players couldn't play against black players and vice versa. It made no sense to him. He just wanted to find the best players he could recruit--no matter who they were or where they were from, as long as they had that potential. It was as simple as that to him."
Lucas dove headlong into Haskins' life and times, researching every possible aspect of life in 1960s Texas. His trailer on the set was lined with more than 700 pictures of Haskins, the team as well as general news clippings from the era.
Lucas even gained thirty-five pounds during production to better emulate the famously bear-like body type of Haskins during his coaching days. "Haskins was addicted to basketball, so I knew if I was going to play him successfully, I had to start sharing that philosophy," the actor says of his approach.
To further get into the role, Lucas began coaching the other cast members during their intensive basketball practices, running drills on the court with no mercy just as Haskins once did. He knew he had to assert his authority over the team even before the cameras started rolling--even if it meant temporarily getting tough with his fellow actors.
But the softer side of Haskins comes out in his home life with his children and his wife, Mary, who always believed in him and spurred him towards the greatness he achieved. To play Mary, the filmmakers chose Emily Deschanel, the star of Fox's new series "Bones" and whose film credits include "Cold Mountain" and "Spider-Man 2." Says Deschanel, "Mary and Don had such a unique relationship, and to this day you can still see the softness and warmth between them. Throughout the film you can see Don being the disciplinarian coach that he was, but he wasn't that tough when he came home. I think every person needs someone in their life to keep them humble and grounded. That is what Mary did for Don."
Ultimately, Lucas says that Haskins has become the most complex and interesting character of his screen career. "I loved playing Don because there's so much duality to him. He was complex, intimidating, rip-roaringly funny and honest to a fault. He could spew rattlesnake venom but at the same time he was this totally generous bear of a personality who was gracious with everybody. Don Haskins is a figure of mythic status, not just in El Paso, but around the world, and I feel really proud and honored to have had this chance to play him."
Executive producer Andy Given, who knows Don Haskins personally, was especially impressed by Lucas' performance. "Having grown up with the Haskinses and having spent time with Don and his sons in my childhood, I have to say I think Josh Lucas nailed the part. It was uncanny."
THE STAR PLAYER: Derek Luke as Bobby Joe Hill
Bobby Joe Hill, the feisty guard from Detroit who helped lead his Texas team to a historic victory in 1966, was once called by Don Haskins the greatest competitor he ever knew. To portray the star player, who was also coined "Rebel" by his teammates, the filmmakers turned to one of today's most promising new screen stars, Derek Luke, who won widespread acclaim for portraying the inspiring title role in "Antwone Fisher."
Luke was immediately drawn to the role--and to the idea of playing a young man who demonstrated true passion in life both on and off the court. "Bobby Joe's fun-loving spirit and confidence shined no matter what he did. That is what made him such an amazing player and also makes him such a great character," he says. "I loved the story of GLORY ROAD because it's about so much more than basketball. It's about the lives of the coach and the players and it's about finding that potential to go beyond what you thought was possible."
Luke was also acutely aware of how very different times were for an African-American basketball player attending college in the South in the mid 1960s. "The truth is that Bobby Joe truly thought Don Haskins was fibbing when he asked him to be one of the starters for the Miners," notes Luke. "In those days black players spent a lot of the time on the bench; they weren't allowed to express themselves on the court. And to think that a coach wanted him to come to Texas and be the number-one ball handler on the team? You have to understand, that was an incredible dream come true for Bobby Joe. He understood what it meant."
Though Luke had never played basketball seriously before being cast as Hill, he immediately went into crash training, spending sweat-soaked hours day and night working on his free throws and footwork--and demonstrating an intensity and focus he seemed to share with his character. "In a way, I thought of this movie as almost an action film, in that I knew I would have to commit just as much physically as I did emotionally," he explains. "That was the real challenge."
On the set, Luke's depth of devotion to his character, the game and the story's resonance in today's world became an inspiration to everyone. "Nobody has heart like Derek Luke," says director Gartner. "He brought himself fully to this role."
THE RIVAL: Jon Voight as Coach Adolph Rupp
When Don Haskins and his team made it to the NCAA championships, they knew they were about to face down the toughest possible opponents--the highest-scoring team in the nation and four-time national champions, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, and their equally driven coach, Adolph Rupp. Rupp had developed a reputation for being brash, arrogant, ruthless and nearly unbeatable. Though he passed away years ago, Rupp remains a controversial figure whose role in basketball's segregation is still debated.
In the original GLORY ROAD script, the character of Rupp had only a few lines of dialogue but once Academy Award®-winning actor Jon Voight was cast in the role, and demonstrated an uncanny mastery of Rupp's unique personality, the part was expanded.
Bruckheimer states, "I believe Jon Voight listened to hundreds of hours of tape on Rupp. As he did in 'Ali' with Howard Cosell and with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 'Pearl Harbor,' he became an expert at copying mannerisms and voice patterns, bringing Adolph Rupp fully to life."
Adds one of the film's basketball consultants, Tim Floyd, "I think the people in Kentucky are going to be knocked out when they see Voight's dead-on portrayal of Rupp."
There are still unanswerable questions about Rupp's true personal beliefs, but Voight was determined to play the character with veracity. Says James Gartner, "Jon handled the part of Rupp with great sensitivity. It is still a big question mark what Rupp's feelings were towards black basketball players playing in white schools and we may never know. Yet Voight captured the essence of Rupp as a coach in every look and gesture. That was what we needed."
For Voight, accuracy was the aim. "I felt a responsibility to represent Adolph Rupp as he was in that moment," he says. "He was one of the greatest coaches of our lifetime, and many admired his skills despite what was thought about his social views. He was also part of this great story in which Don Haskins shows that sometimes we do big things in life and don't realize the importance at the time. And that is greatness."
Voight made the decision to stay in character on set the entire time, which only added to the high-wire atmosphere when shooting the championship game. Recalls Josh Lucas: "When I realized that Voight was going to be Rupp at all times, I decided I would look right back at him as Haskins. That really set the tone of true tension that existed between these two world-class coaches."
THE DREAM TEAM: Casting the Texas Western Miners
Just as Don Haskins devoted himself to recruiting talented players for his Texas Western Miners, so, too, did GLORY ROAD's filmmakers head out on an intensive hunt to cast the roles of the famously flashy team with a fresh and exciting young cast. The challenge was clear from the start. "We had to find a cast who were both convincing athletes and actors, two talents in one," say Jerry Bruckheimer. "We had to first test their athletic ability and then see if they felt honest in front of the camera."
Bruckheimer suggested that the filmmakers hold open basketball calls across the country to search for new talent. Calls were held in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New York by basketball coordinator Mike Fisher, who had worked with Bruckheimer coordinating football on "Remember the Titans." Fisher weeded out potential candidates by asking those auditioning to dunk the ball as soon as they walked in the room, hoping this would expose their raw talent. Once some skill with the ball was established, the filmmakers looked for uncanny matches with the personalities of the real-life players. For this, Bruckheimer turned to veteran casting director Ronna Kress with whom he worked on "Remember the Titans" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
For example, Al Shearer, who plays the charismatic Nevil Shed, demonstrated the same playful and mischievous personality, known to television audiences from his on-air MTV hosting, that so many came to love in Shed. Schin A.S. Kerr who plays the Miners' big center David Lattin, played professional ball overseas so he had the athletic skills--but he won the part for real when he read for Jerry Bruckheimer and nailed the tough-guy persona that was a trademark for his character. Damaine Radcliff, who plays Willie Cager, was found in an open basketball casting call in New York. Radcliff had been playing ball on the streets since he was a child and had dreams of acting, but never thought an open casting call would merge his two passions in a major motion-picture debut. Mehcad Brooks, who portrays forward Harry Flournoy, hadn't played basketball since he was an all-state player in high school, but remembered his father telling him about the Texas Western victory as a bedtime story. And so it went, until the entire team was formed.
Says Jerry Bruckheimer, "So now we had our team, a bunch of kids from all over the country who had never met before, and we had to mold them into a group of champions. Wow, did we have our work cut out for us."
S K I L L: BASKETBALL BOOT CAMP AND A VISIT FROM DON HASKINS
W I N N I N G: RECREATING THE GAME THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
JAMES GARTNER (DIRECTOR)
CHRISTOPHER CLEVELAND & BETTINA GILOIS (WRITERS)
JERRY BRUCKHEIMER (PRODUCER)